I just got off the phone with one of my best friends from college. It was a call a long time coming. He converted from atheism to Christianity about a year ago and I never had the chance to hear his story. I didn’t rush this call for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want him to think I was jumping for the chance to drag him kicking and screaming back to atheism. Second, I didn’t want his pitching of theism to further hurt our already lapsed relationship. And third, and most importantly, I didn’t think religion would take. It did, and after hearing his story, I understand why.
In college, my friend, we’ll call him John, was no saint. He was, however, fairly typical for his age and culture. His great sin was womanizing, most of which took place entirely within his mind. In the four years I knew him, he cycled between only five or six sexual partners while cataloguing every ass of note in our predominately female class. His conversion brings up an interesting question: if a man stops womanizing by becoming a bible-thumper, is that a net positive or negative for our feminism-infused Atheism Plussers? Either way, his origins in atheism had more to do with rejecting the rules of the Bible than disproving it. As technical as John could be, he never cared about science.
It started when a pair of Christians came to his work place for a little evangelizing. Why were they allowed to make with the missionary? It’s unclear, but it seems like John’s boss is of the same faith. It’s also unclear whether the Christians started talking to John or if John initiated the discussion. They asked him if he was married and he remembered asking (inexplicably and completely out of character) “how could I be the head of the household without Jesus the head of my life.” The guys kept talking but John only picked up on key phrases like “God loves you” and “Jesus loves you.” John started crying on the spot.
John apparently pulled himself back together and went on his way. Not long after, he found himself having a vision in his car--hopefully when he wasn’t driving. John saw himself in a cathedral in front of an alter, completely at peace. When he came out of this dream state, his GPS was operating with navigation in progress. John follows the God-as-Garmin to, you guessed it, a church. He exists his car, wanders around until a church patron informs him their place of worship is currently a trailer--seeing how their church burned down. The vision of the alter didn’t come to pass, but John managed to find a chair facing a cross and got with the kneeling.
In fact, God made him kneel. At points in this journey, John said he felt lead as if someone was holding his hand. This hand allegedly tugged John down to his knees. He claims to have heard God's or Jesus’ voice say “Let me in” and claims to have seen his own demons pass from his body in the form of a husk of his past self--complete with a schizophrenic last attempt to convince him to stick with his scandalous ways.
So yeah... I went into this conversation expecting a story about his mother, who is also a born-again, or his new bride slowly indoctrinating John into the faith. Instead, I got a personal experience that changed my friend to his core overnight. John hadn’t talked to his mom all but a dozen times since he was 14 and had no contact leading into this conversion. His wife was perfectly happy as an atheist--John had to indoctrinate her into the faith before proposing. How do I reconcile this?
Short answer: I don’t. I can’t. I don’t believe his story, but I believe that he believes it. As many times as he has testified this particular miracle, I’m sure he believes it more now then he did the evening of the event--each retelling solidifying the memory--both the real and imaginary aspects. The only bit that can’t be explained by a mental break from reality is the GPS involvement. Was there really a holy ghost in the machine or did John’s yearning for Jesus make him search for “church” on a subconscious level? The later, of course. And yet...if I had a similar experience, Deity Shmeity would have some rebranding to do. After all, if true, this “miracle,” fits my high-standard of conversion.
I felt that I needed to share this even though parts of this story may seem to undermine my naturalistic perspective. You come to your conclusions, I'll come to mine.
An Assessment of John
You’ve heard my assessment of the story, here is my assessment of John. He is entirely sane. While completely convinced, John seemed confused about parts of his own tale. There was often lost time and parts that he didn’t remember. The telling contained more passion than details, but there were plenty of details. Today John is, by his own account, a better man. His porn addiction and alcoholism are no longer a problem...even though I doubt any doctor would have diagnosed either. An addiction is usually classified as such when it interferes with other aspects of one’s life. His girlfriend seemed fine with porn and he was only drunk in my company for obvious drinking occasions. Since he still enjoys an adult beverage on occasion, I doubt he was an alcoholic. Typically, when they quit, they can never drink again without a relapse. Or so I've heard. I’m not a doctor.
To me, the conversion made him better today by retroactively making him worse yesterday. The shame and guilt of Christianity is in full affect. Now every sexual daydream he ever had is equivalent to rape. The sins of the mind might as well be acts. I’d consider it a wash if he now has a higher opinion of women...but I can’t. He replaced objectifying strippers with minimizing the entire role of females. John made it very clear by saying then reiterating that men follow God and women follow the men who follow God.
This is a less important aside, but if there is a God, shouldn’t he want to get this message out? During this half hour conversation with John he lost cell service twice and we both were interrupted by other callers. Did Jesus have hecklers on the Sermon on the Mount? Did the burning bush take a few times to catch? The Bible probably left that part out.